America - Front
America - Back
By Karl Koebke 28th Feb 2012 | 5,838 views
Oh, Katamari Damacy, how I loved you. Uniquely weird and Japanese, I can still sing the title song after all these years. Since then the series really hasn't ever been able to capture the strange magic of that first time I rolled up random junk to make a star. With the Vita launch The King of All Cosmos has returned with another attempt to take our hearts, but are some new controls and the ability to stretch and squeeze your Katamari enough to bring the magic back?
Kind of surprised that wasn't a 20-sided die
Like any Katamari game, the story is minimal but crazy. The King of All Cosmos has discovered that he's losing fans (whoa...this is getting all meta) and has decided to listen to the requests of his minions in order to re-gain their favor. That's the main story and reason behind your actions as The Prince, but the cutscenes actually center around a lonely shut-in playing games and letting his life slip from his fingers. It's like Namco is trying their damnedest to make me go outside; good luck with that, guys. Katamari Damacy stories aren't really about a coherent narrative, but instead it's all about The King of All Cosmos berating you between jokes and talking about how awesome he is while the cutscenes confuse and delight. Touch My Katamari definitely succeeds in that regard. It's an amusing tale of randomness that's a fun distraction from the gameplay every now and then.
That aforementioned gameplay hasn't really changed too much since the first iteration. You roll around a Katamari using the analog sticks and anything that you touch will add on to your Katamari if you are large enough. It's a simple mechanic that feels endlessly rewarding. There are few things in this world that give me the satisfaction that rolling up larger and larger things in Katamari Damacy does. Trouncing obstacles that used to be dauntingly huge and adding them to your Katamari is just so gratifying. Most missions give you a time limit to work within, but once you complete them all you can unlock an eternal mode which is my personal favorite. Leisurely going from the size of a baseball until you can pick up Dalmations in a single level is always a fun time.
That said, the core gameplay has evolved slightly since its inception. You can jump with the press of a button which helps to give you access to things when you're smaller, and the Vita allows you to use the touch screen for a variety of things. If you like you can direct the entire game using the front touch screen, but I'll always prefer the classic analog controls. But even if you're like me you'll definitely be using the touch screen for the ability to manipulate the shape of your Katamari. By pushing together or pulling apart your fingers on the front or back touch screen you can change the width and height of your Katamari. Most of the time this is only useful for pulling it into a big steamroller to pick up more items, but every now and then the thinner option is the way to go in levels where you're trying to pick up certain kinds of items and avoid others, or trying to get through a tight space. Since Katamari Damacy is by design a sandbox kind of game, there aren't many instances where stretching and squeezing the Katamari is required, but it's nice to have the option every now and then.
That's gotta be against the rules
One major issue with the game is that the main story levels can become repetitive in their objectives. Most levels just require you to become a certain size before a time limit runs out, and that's fun for a while, but I personally enjoy the levels with special requirements much more. Needing to pick up as much food as possible while staying under a certain calorie total, or getting as big as you can while picking up only 50 things in total were both fun experiments in slowly and methodically choosing what you roll up instead of working against a clock and just grabbing things as quickly as possible. Not all of these alternate objectives are winners though. One in particular - where you have to pick up the biggest cow or bear you possibly can but the first one you pick up finishes the level - brought some issues with the camera to light. The simple fact is that once you get to a certain size it's next to impossible to see or differentiate between the tiny little cow/bear statues that used to be the same size as you. You can go into a first person view and zoom in to check things out, but it's a cumbersome solution to not having full control over the camera. Luckily, that was the only level where this was an issue, so it's not a huge game flaw.
Touch my Katamari continues the tradition of crazy visuals. These games aren't high polycount masterpieces that will make you question reality, but the cute aesthetic works for the series. As always, the music is great, and I found myself humming along particularly in eternal mode where I don't have to rush myself and I can leisurely roam around the level. Voice acting is very minimal but it's fun to hear the strange things people say as you roll them up into a ball.
Just as it was with Escape Plan, Touch my Katamari's main issue is definitely value. It only took me three hours to play through every level, which isn't good on its face for a $30 game. Luckily the developers do try their best to give it replay value. After every level you complete you are rated according to how large your Katamari was at the end of the level and how well you picked up a requested item type. Based on this you'll get candy from the requester which you can use to buy songs, different modes for the levels you've already unlocked, and clothes for the king to wear. The two extra modes you can unlock for every level are the aforementioned eternal mode and a high-speed mode in which you move at least twice as fast as usual but you have less time to get to the required size. Both of these are a fun way to change up the established gameplay but I personally prefer eternal mode.
Candy isn't the only thing you're awarded with. Every once in a while when you start up a level the King will notice that a Damacy Fan has taken up residence and you'll be awarded with him if you can scoop him up during the level. These fans can then be exchanged for extra candy or used to unlock DLC downloaded from the SEN store. If you don't want to wait it out you can purchase fans outright at the store as well, but I like the idea of having a system that makes DLC free if you play the game enough. There are also presents and princely cousins in each level that you can pick up to give yourself some variety in the aesthetics of your playable character. Sales at the kingly clothing store, timed requests for clothes from the king, and candy rewards just for starting up the game on a new day are all ways in which the developers do their best to get you to come back. It doesn't quite make up for the lack of overall unique content, but it definitely helps.
My Rule 34 sense is tingling!
Touch my Katamari is enjoyable just like any title in the series, but it shows the age of the series as well. If Namco had focused more on the fun, unique level objectives, or just provided more levels to play around with in general this would definitely be a great launch title. As it is, it's a fun diversion that fans of the series should undoubtedly pick up, but non-fans should only give it a look if they want something weird and fun to play in 3-10 minute bursts.
This review is based on a retail copy of Touch my Katamari for PS Vita.